Suspended St. Peter Claver pastor denies child rape accusations: 'These allegations are false'
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
January 29, 2021
The Rev. John Asare-Dankwah has denied allegations that he raped an underage boy 13 years ago, a claim that prompted the Archdiocese of New Orleans to suspend him from his role as pastor of Treme’s historic St. Peter Claver Catholic Church.
Asare-Dankwah issued his denial in a statement Thursday, a day after a lawsuit was filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court accusing him of raping a 10-year-old boy while hearing his confession during a weeklong retreat in Alabama in 2008.
“I am deeply saddened and appalled by the allegations,” the statement read. “These allegations are false. I have never harmed anyone in my service to God — particularly any child — and I am prepared to fight vigorously to clear my name that I’ve worked for nearly three decades building trust as a man of God.”
In his remarks, Asare-Dankwah denied ever going to Alabama for a religious retreat. “The only time I have been to Alabama is to visit a friend,” he said.
The archdiocesan priest, who was ordained 26 years ago, was visiting family in his native Ghana when news of the lawsuit broke. He issued the statement through attorney Charline Gipson. Gipson has not been hired to represent the pastor, but she said her partner Daniel Davillier had spoken to Asare-Dankwah by phone and had permission to release the statement.
On Friday, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the alleged victim is a member of the organization’s New Orleans chapter.
“We fully support this gentleman and applaud his courage to come forward publicly,” SNAP leaders said in a statement. “We are encouraged that … Ansare-Dankwah was immediately suspended from his position … and we are also glad that the accusations were immediately reported to police.”
His attorney, Desiree Charbonnet, also said the facts “will be revealed through the trial process.”
“My client’s allegations were very specific and substantiated,” she said.
Archdiocesan officials said Friday they had no additional comment beyond their announcement that Asare-Dankwah is suspended from ministry while they investigate. They have said the filing was the first time they learned of the accusations and that they have reported the claims to law enforcement authorities.
According to his nine-page suit, the plaintiff was 10 years old in 2008 and read frequently at Mass at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Broadmoor when he met Asare-Dankwah, who was stationed there as pastor during a previous assignment.
The suit alleges that Asare-Dankwah took a bus ride with the plaintiff and a group of other children to a seven-day retreat in Montgomery, Alabama. The priest then anally raped the boy while hearing his confession in the anteroom of a chapel, the suit says.
The plaintiff claims Asare-Dankwah beat him the next morning while accusing the boy of being gay, saying homosexuality “was a great sin against God.”
According to the suit, the plaintiff didn’t report Asare-Dankwah to anyone because he was too humiliated. He said he decided to come forward after he attended his grandmother’s funeral in September, saw Asare-Dankwah was officiating, suffered a flashback of the rape, and had a mental breakdown that required two hospitalizations.
The plaintiff demands damages from Asare-Dankwah as well as Blessed Trinity and the archdiocese, who are accused of failing to properly supervise the priest.
It is expected that the plaintiff’s claim will be folded into the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case which the archdiocese filed in May as the Catholic Church’s decades-old, ongoing clerical molestation crisis continues running its course.
The archdiocese did not immediately add Asare-Dankwah to its list of more than 70 priests and deacons whom it considers to have been credibly accused of child molestation over the years, with the church’s investigation into him still in an early phase.
At St. Peter Claver, Asare-Dankwah was ministering to parishioners of a church that is frequently a campaign stop for politicians running for local and state offices. The Josephite Fathers purchased the church in 1920 to serve the area’s African American population.
Asare-Dankwah is the third New Orleans clergyman that Archbishop Gregory Aymond has suspended in recent months following accusations of sex crimes against children.
Aymond suspended the Rev. Patrick Wattigny in October after he allegedly confessed to molesting a teen boy several times beginning in 2013, which prompted the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office to arrest him.
In August, Aymond suspended V.M. Wheeler from his role as a deacon following accusations that he molested a boy 20 years earlier, before Wheeler was ordained. Wheeler has not been charged with a crime but is under investigation by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.